A recent Harvard Business Review article provides support for what I’ve witnessed with organizations which are attempting to move their work management model from a highly prescriptive approach to a self-organized one where teams determine the best approach to conduct their work and then refine their practices over time.
The authors of the article assert that where goals are simple, motivation is high and the main challenge is with getting buy-in on a given approach, then a greater degree of flexibility is recommended and that flexibility should be highlighted when communicating with team members. However, where goals become more complex and there is a need for sustained follow-through and not just early buy-in, then leaders should take a more structured approach with defined steps or actions to achieve a better outcome.
I’d written previously about the concerns of team members who are suddenly told to figure out the best way to get their work done instead of being told what to do. In play-it-safe organization cultures where compliance is valued more than creativity, it can take a long while to overcome ingrained behaviors.
Beyond confidence to act, another issues lies with having too many choices. We are very familiar with this challenge when going to an ice cream parlour which has more than a handful of flavors to choose from. Rather than making a quick choice based on our first preference, we might dither irritating the customers who are behind us in line. The same is true when defining work practices. Faced with a myriad of choices, a team might waste significant effort in trying to determine the best possible option. Constraining the choices to a handful, or better yet, providing a reasonable starting point might avoid this issue.
When teams are moving from a traditional to more agile delivery model, developing a goals-driven, guided approach to help them navigate through a short number of decision points and options will give them the confidence that they are working in a sanctioned manner and will help to curb analysis-paralysis. Decision-making scaling frameworks such as Disciplined Agile Delivery can help develop such stepping stones to a fully, flexible agile delivery approach.
While we consider ourselves to be more evolved than animals, we behave in a similar fashion to dogs which have been trained using invisible fences to not stray by receiving mild electric shocks. Once we have been so conditioned, removal of our fences won’t immediately result in us effectively exploring our new found freedoms.